Series of Tubes: Facebook – New & Improved?

Okay, everyone, take a deep breath. It’s not that bad. It’s not that great, but it’s not that bad.

Facebook rolled out their new Newsfeed Tuesday. I got it Tuesday evening and responded immediately with “DAMMIT FACEBOOK. STOP CHANGING ALL THE THINGS.” I was not alone in my displeasure — my shiny new unreadable Newsfeed was flooded with bile and hatred for the changes. Alethea Skinner responded to my update with, “It’s like coming home in the dark and banging into stuff because someone rearranged the furniture.”

The new Newsfeed and Ticker aren’t all Facebook is changing, though. Yesterday’s Facebook developers conference, F8, revealed huge changes ahead. There were two big reveals at F8: your new profile, called “Timeline,” and major changes in the way your actions and information are shared across Facebook.

The Timeline is already rolling out to some users. I was able to switch my profile to the new Timeline last night through my developer account, but one of my FB buddies informs me they were offered the option to switch out of the blue yesterday evening.

The New Facebook Timeline

My Timeline. Click to enlarge.

I was prepared to hate the Timeline right from the get-go. As I said to my G+ friends yesterday, “Personally? I’m not a damn infographic. Facebook doesn’t need “the story of my life” in slick, easily digestible soundbites and cute mappy graphics.” I activated my Timeline to have a look and to be honest, after all the hype, it was pretty underwhelming.

I had to change my opinion after I looked up at the clock and realized I’d just spent two hours playing with the new options in the Timeline.

Guys, you’re going to hear a lot of tech enthusiasts gushing about the Timeline. You’re going to hear how pretty it is, how intuitive it is, how many more options it has. Shoot, Mashable’s just about ready to take it home and introduce it to their folks, they love it so much. But I’m here to tell you right now that the Timeline? It’s scrapbooking, y’all. And like scrapbooking, it’s as addictive as crack.

Timeline Birth Date

What? I didn't have any baby pictures. Click to enlarge.

For the first time, Facebook is allowing (relatively) easy access to your Facebook history. The new profile is arranged like — surprise! — a timeline, and you can use the little year menu in the right sidebar to page back through your history. Your birth date, jobs, education, anniversaries, and whatnot have all turned into big milestone markers on your Timeline, which you can dress up and customize a bit. For example, you can page back to your birth date, add your parents, where you were born, a little story about your birth, and a baby picture. Or you can do the same for your kids’ births, your marriage, your new job, whatever.

My favorite feature was the “cover,” which is what they’re calling the splashy big photo you can add to the top of your Timeline. As you can see, I immediately turned mine into advertising space for my novel, but I saw plenty of baby, puppy, and kitty photos being used as well.

The new Timeline is pretty, and kind of fun to poke at, but it’s not exactly a world-changing proposition. It’s (apparently) already rolling out, and if I’m understanding correctly, will go live September 29th. Don’t get too worked up, though, because it’s going to be “opt-in,” at least to start. I expect it will be mandatory before too very long.

Privacy Settings

Click to enlarge.

The one big hitch in the Timeline is that not only is it easier for you to get at your Facebook history, it’s easier for everyone to get at your Facebook history, including employers and creepy Internet stalkers. Don’t panic. It’s also very easy for you to lock that down, and make sure no one sees your vulgar status updates and questionable photos. In fact, you can do that right now — head to your profile page (old or new), and in the upper right corner, you’ll see your name, “Home,” and a little down-arrow. Click the down-arrow, and go under “Privacy Settings.”

You can set your default privacy to “public,” “friends,” or “custom,” which is what you’d use to make all your posts private, or sent only to a select group. Now: pick the privacy level you would like to set all your old posts to. Scroll down a bit, and you’ll spot “Limit the Audience for Past Posts.” Click the link next to it, “Manage Past Post Visibility.” A confirmation bubble will pop up warning that you’re about to change all your old posts to the privacy level you just selected. Click on “Limit Old Posts,” and voila! All your old posts are now friends-only, private, or whatever. Now, if you want new posts to be a different level of privacy, all you have to do is switch your default at the top half of the page and go about your merry way.

The other big change coming to Facebook is not so benign or easily dealt with. Facebook is about to radically change how you share your information across their site.

Facebook is rolling out a new OpenGraphs API. For those of you who don’t speak Geek, that means Facebook just changed how third parties create Facebook apps, and how you and your profile interacts with those apps (apps being games, those little quizzes, or any extra bit that asks if it’s okay to connect with your Facebook account).

ETA 9/24/2011: New information about Facebook’s OpenGraph has popped up. See this post at the Commuter’s Tumblr and this post about Facebook’s OpenGraph at Enrique Gutierrez’ blog.

The first big change is that from now on, an app is only going to ask you once if it’s okay for it to interact with and do things to your profile, like publish status updates and whatnot. So, pay attention to what it’s asking permission to do, because you’ll only see it once. Once you okay an app, it’s going to do whatever it’s set up to do without ever checking in with you again.

The Guardian

Click to enlarge.

The second big change is that apps are now able to publish everything you do with them to the Newsfeed, even if you don’t do any more than click a link to see what an app actually is. Last night I added the new Guardian app to my profile to see how things worked. The app is pretty slick. It’s basically a Facebook version of the Guardian newspaper, with a very nice layout that shows you their latest stories. Every time I clicked through to read a story, it published out to my Newsfeed for everyone to see. Not every time I clicked the “like,” “recommend,” “share,” or “send,” button, but every time I read a story, whether I actually wanted to share that information with my friends or not.

That’s how apps are going to work now, so you’re going to want to be careful what apps you add. It’s going to be really easy to accidentally embarrass yourself. Not only that, but if you thought the new Newsfeed sucked before, wait until it’s crammed full of every little article, song, movie, or whatnot your friends click on. And that’s where all those clicks will be going — not into the Ticker, but right into the Newsfeed.

So, Facebook – new and improved? Depends on how you want to use it. Are you into the idea of sharing every new song, book, article, TV show, movie, or whatever with all of your friends, while they share all of that with you? If so, then the new Facebook is going to rock your world. If you were using Facebook for, oh, just about anything else on Earth, the whole thing probably just went swirling down the toilet.

But hey, good news! Google+ just came out of beta!

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